Life Mission – Don’t Let Go

I’ve written before about my “bucket list” – a lengthy and detailed list of things I’d like to see, do, and own during my lifetime. But there are really only three things that I want more than anything in the world. Although I am learning to be content no matter what, this is all I truly need to be happy and satisfied with my life. All the other dreams and goals would be nice but not essential. This is my life mission.

  • To fall in love with the guy of my dreams. Wooed and won by my true love. Cherishing and being cherished in return. A passionate lifelong love affair. To build a life and a family with a man who I can trust implicitly and love infinitely.
  • To raise children of my own. Our own, I should say. Both biological and adopted kids. Little people who need to be loved and cared for. To share with them the gift of love that was given to me.
  • To have a successful career as a writer and author. One that allows me the financial freedom to quit my day job and offers the flexibility to spend time with my husband and kids. To feel as though my writing is making a difference in the world.

 

Everyone has a life mission. No two are the same. Each is as valid and valuable as the next. What is your life mission? Do you know yet? There was a time when I did not know mine. Even today I do not have the full picture, just the bare bones. I have a glimmer of a dream that I carry in a special place in my heart. A dream of a life that overflows with love and joy and passion. A life that is my own and is what I want it to be. I don’t know how I’ll get there, but I know where I want to be. Do you? Look deep in your heart – you will find your life mission there. And once you have it, don’t ever let go.life mission

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Broken Relationships

How do you know when a relationship is over? How do you know it’s time to let go? Is it a gradual drifting apart? Or a sudden painful break? Is it wrong to stop trying, to stop caring when you feel that a relationship has ended? Is there an objective way of measuring broken relationships?

I have had my fair share of relationships end. The first big ones were while I was still in grade school – both of my best friends moved away right around the same time. The first one tried for a while to remain pen pals, but the gaps between letters slowly grew larger and larger. Our last correspondence was probably about 12-15 years ago. My second best friend moved away without so much as a goodbye. I haven’t seen her since. I haven’t had a best friend since either come to think of it.

Right now I am smack in the middle of what feels like the end of yet another relationship. It never should have happened but one thing led to another until the scales reached a tipping point. Now I’m not sure we could patch things up if we wanted to. We each feel betrayed by the other and that’s a hard thing to work through.

The thing is, with the changes I am about to make in my life, it would be real easy to walk away from this person and forget the whole thing ever happened. That may even be what I should do. Leave it unmended and let Old Man Time do what he does best – heal all wounds. Perhaps without a fresh, daily reminder of what happened, we could both heal. Or maybe I need to patch it up and then walk away. Either way, I’m convinced we need some time apart.

Perhaps someday our relationship will be what it once was. Perhaps not. Right now, I’m not sure I care. There’s a vague whisper at the back of my mind that I should care. That I shouldn’t let this die because if I do, a part of me will die with it. another part of me wants to just toss it on the scrap heap of broken relationships and move on. How am I supposed to know what to do?

And what happens when the day comes that I have a deeper relationship than a friend or sibling? What happens when I have a fight with the man I’m trying to build a life with? How will I know whether to fight for us or to let it fall apart? You can’t build a life on broken relationships. And now I know what I must do. I have to fight for every single relationship in my life. I have to fight for my family, for my friends, and someday I will have to fight for my man. I have to stay in there and fight till the very end for the people I care about. I am not a quitter. I am a warrior.broken relationships

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Audrey and Don Wood – Great Children’s Literature

audrey and don woodWhen I was little, one of my most favorite things to do was read picture books with Mama. Any time she would sit down with me or us and read books was the highlight of my day. Several of our biggest favorites were written by the world’s most ingenious storytelling couple: Audrey and Don Wood. Their stories and the accompanying illustrations are unsurpassed in the world of picture books.

King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, by Audrey and Don Wood, was a particular favorite. The tale of a fun-loving king who refuses to leave his bathtub will have you in stitches. Each member of his court tries a different approach to entice him out of the water; each fails spectacularly. The story is funny enough by itself, add the outrageous illustrations and this book is just over-the-top hilarious.

Another great classic Wood tale is that of The Big Hungry Bear. And the little mouse and the red ripe strawberry of course. I can still hear Mama’s voice reading those perfect lines. It was ever so exciting and thrilling – the suspense of whether the mouse would be able to safeguard his precious strawberry from the big hungry bear.

A newer addition to the Wood lineup, Ten Little Fish (by Audrey Wood and son Bruce) is not one that Mama read to me. She and I picked up one day when I was nearly grown at our local thrift store. I think we paid a quarter for it. I intend to read it to my own little ones someday. A rhyming under the sea counting book with an adorable story of family, I am sure this book will someday be as beloved by my children as the rest of the Wood collection.

Although I’ve never met a Wood book I didn’t adore, my special favorite will always be Silly Sally. “Silly audrey and don woodSally went to town, walking backwards upside down.” Silly to the point of zaniness, this is probably the most fun read-aloud book in the history of read-aloud books. A solo book from Audrey Wood, both words and pictures are perfection. At one time, I could recite the entire book from memory.

And there are many more Wood masterpieces that I have not the space to cover here. Some I’ve never even read myself. Someday though, I intend to raise my kids on a complete Audrey and Don Wood (and Bruce Wood too) collection. I hope every kid everywhere is introduced to the spectacular talent of the Wood family and I hope they continue to produce great children’s literature for many years to come.

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Falling in Love with Prince Charming

Something new is happening to me. Something I have never experienced before. It is amazing and wonderful and completely terrifying. Millions of people, if not more, have written about this phenomenon before me. I don’t know that I have anything new or particularly insightful to add to their words, but if you will indulge me with a few moments of your time, I have to tell someone. I believe I am falling in love.

Bizarre I know. And completely unexpected by everyone who knows me. I think some expected me to stay single forever. I’m not the type to need someone else to feel complete. Or to crave affection. Not openly at least. Tough as nails and fiercely independent – why would I need romance? That’s where everyone got it wrong. I may be both those things, but I still have a woman’s heart. Soft, tender, yearning to love and be loved in return.

Mama knew me. She knew that under my rough exterior was a princess searching for my prince charming. I am so grateful that she lived long enough to see me begin this process. Am I in love? Not yet. This is unfamiliar terrain; I am going slow. Will I fall in love? Maybe. I believe I could fall in love with this guy. But even if I do, does it mean he is my prince charming? Perhaps, perhaps not. He certainly is a prince charming.

I am lucky to have such a great guy for my possibly first, maybe last, love. He is everything I could have asked for in a boyfriend. Sweet and fun and intelligent and sexy and so much more. He treats me as his equal and as though I am special, as if I mean the world to him. He makes me feel like his Cinderella and if he isn’t careful, he is going to make me fall completely, hopelessly, head-over-heels in love with him.falling in love

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The Scarlet Pimpernel

scarlet pimpernel“Sport, Madame la Comtesse, sport,” asserted Lord Antony, with his jovial, loud and pleasant voice; “we are a nation of sportsmen, you know, and just now it is the fashion to pull the hare from between the teeth of the hound.” – The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy

So, casually and almost flippantly, does Lord Antony, a member of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s league, explain their motives for doing what they do. I have to say that I have never encountered a more superbly-written book than Baroness Emmuska Orczy’s classic The Scarlet Pimpernel. Every sentence is phrased so exquisitely; she is truly a master craftswoman.  And each line draws you deeper into the beautiful yet sinister world of the Scarlet Pimpernel and his daring band.

In a nutshell, this is the story of a fictional group of English gentlemen who pull French aristocratic hares from between the teeth of French revolutionary hounds. Led by their enigmatic leader, whose nom de guerre is taken from a humble flower common along English roadsides, they risk everything to save a few lives from certain death. Every time a cursed aristo is rescued from the insatiable bloodlust of the guillotine, a scrap of paper with the signature image of a red flower finds its way into the pocket of a French official. Our hero finds a worthy antagonist in the form of Monsieur Chauvelin, a high-ranking official in the revolutionary government.

Our hero, the daring Scarlet Pimpernel, and his band of devil-may-care companions disguise their identities by playing the role of foppish aristocratic dandies. Caring only for fashion and the gaiety of court life, their ruse works so well that no one, not even the Pimpernel’s own wife, suspect their true natures. This, I think, was the most difficult aspect of their charade for Sir Percy – to allow himself to be seen as a fool even by his wife. The wife he loved dearly and was willing to die for – to know that she despised him must have been a bitter pill to swallow. And yet, for the sake of saving a few strangers from the guillotine, he was willing to endure even that. That, my friends, is true untarnished heroism and honor.

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Real Steel, Heartwarming

Heartwarming. Not what you’d expect from a futuristic story about robot boxing. But that is exactly how I’d describe Real Steel. In the not-too-distant future, human boxers have been replaced by robotic counterparts. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a former boxer who now promotes robot fights. Plagued by bad luck, he’s about ready to chuck it all when his “luck” changes. This good luck comes in the form of a son (Dakota Goyo) he hasn’t seen in years. When his ex-wife dies in a car accident, custody of their son Max falls to him. Charlie offers to relinquish his claim on the boy in exchange for a payout from his ex-sister-in-law and her wealthy husband. With visions of a new ’bot filling his head, he reluctantly agrees to take Max for one summer before turning him over to his aunt and uncle. He even tries to pawn Max off on a friend (Evangeline Lilly) while he takes his new robot on the fight circuit but Max is having none of it. Real stand-up guy, that Charlie.

Over the course of the summer, Max and Charlie fall out of one adventure and into the next. Charlie’s overconfidence and ego cost them their robot in its first fight; a harrowing night in the junkyard nearly kills them both; the antiquated ’bot Max stumbles across turns out to be something special; a showdown in the rough world of underground boxing shows Charlie that his son is made of tougher stuff than he realized; and slowly but surely, Charlie and Max develop the beginnings of a beautiful relationship. Max and his robot quickly go from little-known underdogs to the people’s champions but at the last minute, Charlie chucks the whole thing. Not for selfish reasons, as you would have expected at the beginning, but with the boy’s best interests at heart. This destroys their budding camaraderie and Max returns to his aunt and uncle with his faith in other people and Charlie in particular all but destroyed.

Charlie’s redemption, a rebuilt relationship, a touch of romance, and a dramatic final battle – this climax has it all. At its heart, this is an underdog story. Actually it’s a story of three underdogs: Charlie, a washed-up boxer; Atom, a discarded sparring ’bot; and Max, a scrawny, scrappy 11-year-old kid. Add in a redemption arc and the value of family and you would think this is your typical feel-good flick. At some level, I suppose that’s true. But on a deeper level, this is so much more than that. Real Steel is a moving, powerful story that deserves to be remembered for many years to come.real steel

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Frustration – Learning to Let Go

frustrationFrustration, particularly when we allow it to build up indefinitely, can be one of the biggest problems we deal with in our everyday lives. I am at a point where my frustration has been accumulating for at least a couple years. Probably longer than that even, but it has been more noticeable here lately. Stemming primarily from circumstances beyond my control, which makes it that much worse. I have done my best to “handle” it, but that is never easy. Especially when the frustrating situations only deteriorate with time. And especially when there are multiple sources of frustration. Sometimes it makes me want to scream. Or cry. Or beat my fists against a brick wall.

There has been one amazing change in my life this past year or so that has both helped my frustration and made things worse. One thing in my little world that is what I want and on my terms. Most of the time. This makes it easier to deal with frustrations by providing a break, but it also makes those frustrations worse by comparison. It also makes it that much worse when this one comfort lets me down. When it ceases to act as a balance to the constant frustrations and instead joins their ranks, it very nearly pushes me over the edge. I am afraid of allowing my pent-up aggravation to destroy this one good.

The primary fuel for my frustration is lack of control. Being an uptight, take-charge, super-opinionated type of personality, having others dictating what I can and can’t do or how to think is particularly aggravating. Even worse is being judged and criticized for thinking and being different than everyone else. My paradox is a need for things to be my way and also desperately wanting to please the people around me. This makes for a highly combustible situation.

Finding myself and discovering where I stand and what I believe has only accelerated the problem. On the upside, I have learned to accept that others won’t think like me and won’t make the same decision I would in their shoes. But on the flipside of that, I have zero tolerance for anyone who expects me to conform to their parameters. Being (well) over 21, it is high time for me to define my own parameters. But due to various circumstances I still have individuals in my life who believe that they have the right to dictate how I live and what I do.

There really is only one solution to this problem. One way to nix these sources of frustration. It is a decision I have been loath to make for quite some time, knowing that the day would come where I would no longer have a choice. Where I would have to do what’s right for me. For the sake of my own sanity and well-being. It is a difficult decision to make – the two sides of my personality have been at war with each other for some time now. The time has come to end this war. The frustration and the turmoil have begun to take a toll on both my physical and mental health. I must do what is best for me, come what may.

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Hear Through the Noise

Life is always teaching. The question is “Are we always listening?” Or even “Do we ever listen?” It’s tough, you know. To hear what Life is trying to tell us, to listen through the noise and chaos of our existence. But if we can find an inner stillness, we will hear exactly what we need to hear. Whether it be encouragement or a rebuke, the right words are always there. Sometimes whispering. Sometimes thundering. I wish Life would thunder at me every time it spoke because I am often thick-headed and don’t hear. Something I need to work on.

I heard today. Just a whisper, but I heard it. I find that happening more and more often of late. As always, it was exactly the words I needed to hear. “Just breathe. You can do this. You are more than dynamite and fuse. Don’t react in anger. Breathe.” It was pretty cool. And I was pleased with myself that I heard it this time. There was a day when I never heard what Life was trying to say to me. I feel like I have grown and matured that I can now hear. Even through the noise of this world and the tumble of my own thoughts.

I call it Life, but I don’t really know who or what is speaking these words to me. Sometimes pointing out that I screwed up, sometimes making an observation about someone else, sometimes nudging me to say or do a kindness, sometimes reminding me of things that I already know. Perhaps it is God, or my own conscience, or maybe I’ve just finally found the good sense I always lacked. If I believed in ghosts, I’d probably think it was my mother saying these things to me. Perhaps it is the memory of her and the desire to live up to her belief in me that has finally made me sensitive to these words. They do sometimes come in her voice. Or perhaps it just means I am crazy and the men in white jackets are going to come take me away. As long as they are making me a better person, I don’t mind having voices in my head.hear through the noise

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Edgar Rice Burroughs

One of my favorite authors is fantasy/sci-fi master Edgar Rice Burroughs. Although he’s most famous for his Tarzan books, my first encounter with his work was through the deathless Virginian, John Carter, and his incomparable Dejah Thoris. I happened to stumble across A Princess of Mars on Project Gutenberg when I was browsing through their most-downloaded titles. “Well, this one could be interesting,” I thought. “It must be pretty good if it’s this popular and I do love sci-fi.” (Like most if not all of his books, it’s as much or maybe more fantasy than sci-fi, but I didn’t know this at first.) So I put it on my Kindle and started reading. I was instantly hooked. Every other Burroughs book Project Gutenberg had was on my Kindle by the end of the week and it didn’t take me more than 4 weeks to read them. I also started my print collection right away, focusing particularly on the ones I couldn’t get from Gutenberg. But I hope to own a copy of every book he ever wrote eventually.

All of Burroughs’ books have a similar feel. In fact, he’s been criticized for all of his books being “the same plot, just different settings.” I don’t think they’re all the same, but there are certain common denominators. He obviously had a very specific idea of what characteristics a hero must have, as most of his books could swap protagonists and we’d scarcely notice. They’re not identical twins – but they are all brothers. Certain plot devices are common to most of his books, but are always rearranged and twisted into a new narrative. Chases, capture, escapes, villains with no honor who are out to kill our hero and enslave his love, and a hero who inevitably becomes a champion for the oppressed and of course always wins his true love. One would think that his plots would be repetitive and tiresome after the first few, but I never grow tired of them. He always manages to make each one fresh and new.

His strongest point is in the creation of exotic locales, environments, societies, and creatures. His imagination is unsurpassed in that regard; he is the master of creating worlds. From Mars to Venus to Luna to the center of the Earth to a lost continent in the south Pacific, the settings for his stories are always incredible, fantastic, and unbelievable. Each series is set in a new place and each location is fully developed and as radically different from all the others as from the Earth we know. The only one that is not completely his creation is the jungles of Africa where Tarzan lives; he was somewhat bound by actual facts on that one. His science is a little fuzzy, but his fiction is top-notch. It is with good reason that his work has endured as long as it has and that he is considered one of the most influential writers of modern times.

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What Makes a Hero?

No matter which book I pick up, or which movie I watch, it appears that I keep finding the same themes. Heroism and honor, right and wrong, humanity and hope, life and love, tragedy and triumph. This is the power of fiction – to create a captivating tale that conveys universal truths and timeless concepts. This is what makes the pen mightier than the sword. The power of words, of ideas, to change the way we think and therefore what we do. Is there any power greater?

The one theme that I keep coming back to though is heroism. What does it mean to be a hero? This question, and the answers I have found both in fiction and history, have informed everything about who I am as a person. Which is probably why historical fiction, particularly the classics, is my favorite genre. Well, one of my favorites. It’s tied with sci-fi for first place. Sci-fi of course is just historical fiction projected onto what we imagine the future will be. Despite how different they may appear superficially, at their core both are the same. A hero and a villain – the dichotomy of good and evil. This is the key ingredient in forming sterling character.

This is what I believe is lacking from most modern books. Why we have a generation (or two or three) that does not know the difference between right and wrong. Most don’t even believe that there is such a thing as moral wrong. Except for thinking that right and wrong still exists. That’s what sensible people call “an argument that commits suicide.” You’re saying that the only wrong is not believing that nothing is ever wrong or immoral? It doesn’t work that way – it can’t work that way. And if we were still reading great literature, books that deal with right and wrong, black and white, good and evil, heroes and villains, then we might still be on track.

Don’t get me wrong, I have seen my generation do tremendous, unbelievable good. It is my firm opinion that we are the generation of empathy. But I also believe that empathy, carried too far, leads to wrong-doing. Do I want us to abandon our empathy? Not on your life. Nor do I want us to remain rigid in the right-versus-wrong standards of yesterday. I do believe that something that was right 50 years ago may now be wrong and vice versa. Good and evil, however, will never change. They stand immutable upon the laws of nature and nature’s God. If we can bring those standards back and couple them with our modern empathy – my god! What incredible good we could do!

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King Alfred’s English

A history book that reads like fiction. King Alfred’s English: A History of the Language We Speak and Why We Should Be Glad We Do, by Laurie J. White. Intended for students and “curious adults,” King Alfred’s English is a fascinating look at the history of the evolution of our language. This book chronicles the people and events that shaped the English language over the centuries and its amazing rise from a “coarse, vulgar” tongue to the most beautiful and dominant language of the world today.

Have you ever wondered why England is also called Britain? Or asked yourself where the Southern rebel yell came from? Or how Martin Luther, a German, influenced the English language? Do you know how many words Shakespeare used in his plays? Or how many of those words were his own invention? Any idea when the Great Vowel Shift occurred – or even what it was? What is the difference between an inflected language and an analytical language? What is the Language Law? King Alfred’s English answers all these questions and more.

Ms. White charts a course through the 4 major language “invasions” that influenced the vocabulary and grammar of that wild, barbaric island off the northern coast of France. Her history also includes the stories of the individual men who influenced our native tongue: King Arthur, Alfred, William the Conqueror, Wycliffe, Chaucer, Gutenberg, Tyndale, King James (and his Bible), and William Shakespeare. Jam-packed with interesting trivia and details about English history and language – and language in general – King Alfred’s English is an informative read for kids and adults alike. For those who love the power of words like I do, it’s a must-read. As a special bonus, Laurie White also offers free supplemental material online (worksheets, tests, research activities, and links) to go with each chapter.

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The Inn of the Sixth Happiness

Jen-ai. The one who loves. What a name to earn – especially from a people not originally your own. This is the name given to Gladys Aylward by the Chinese in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (a slightly fictionalized account of Aylward’s missionary work in China). A beautiful story of a beautiful life, it has long been one of my favorites. In fact, if my memory serves, it was the first adult movie that I actually enjoyed.

Gladys is an English servant who longs to be a missionary to China, but the mission society won’t send her because she’s not “qualified.” So she works and saves her wages and pays her own way. She goes to Yang Cheng to work with Jeannie Lawson, a long-time missionary. When Jeannie dies, Gladys continues running the inn they’d opened together. She is also appointed by the local Mandarin to the position of foot inspector – a job which requires her to visit all the villages of the province and enforce the laws against foot-binding. Her great love and kindness earn her a place in the hearts of every citizen in the province – even the prison convicts and mountain bandits – and her courage and firm resolve earn her their respect as well. Her total immersion into their world opens doors that other missionaries who spent a portion of each year back “home” could never touch.

Along the way, she adopts 5 orphan children as her own and finds a true friend and eventually true love in Lin Nan, a Chinese military officer who is half Dutch. Two outsiders with the odds stacked against them – my kind of love story. When war breaks out, the number of orphans she cares for swells to 100; and when they are in imminent danger of being overrun by the enemy, she leads the children on a perilous 3-week trek through the mountains to safety. This is where we see the sterling character that has been forged through years of hardship and toil. This is what she was put on this earth to do; this is her calling. Jen-ai’s strength, courage, compassion, and love made a deep impression on 11-year-old me and are traits that I am trying to learn to emulate.inn of the sixth happiness

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5 Reasons to Read Aloud to Your Children

“A home without books is a body without soul.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

“I cannot live without books.” – Thomas Jefferson

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” – Jackie Kennedy

Reading aloud to your children is one of the best things you can ever do for them. Love them, discipline them, and read good books to them – and they won’t break your hearts when they get older. Read to them from the time they’re born until they leave the house. Read before bed, after lunch, in the morning, any chance you get. Read with expression and enthusiasm, not like it’s a drag. There are many good reasons to read aloud to your children, but in my experience, these are the top 5.

Reading aloud to your children . . .

. . . encourages brain development, especially for toddlers.

. . . enhances vocabulary and communication skills.

. . . teaches valuable life lessons without the pain that sometimes comes with personal experience.

. . . instills a lifelong love of books.

. . . allows for beautiful moments of parent-child bonding and provides sweet memories down the road.

Some of my sweetest memories are of listening to my mama read books to my brothers and sisters and me when we were kids. No matter how often she did, it was always a treat when she would read stories to us. Even as an adult, I loved listening to her read. She would always do different voices for different characters, especially when reading picture books. My mama and daddy raised a houseful of well-rounded, intelligent kids (despite our best efforts to the contrary), and I firmly believe a big part of that can be attributed to good books. Why not do the same for your children?

For a list of recommended books, click here.read aloud

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Memories of Mama

mama loved squirrelsIt’s you I remember every time I see a floral-patterned or plaid jumper. It’s you I remember every time I watch a Roy Rogers movie or listen to him sing. It’s you I remember every time I make a cup of tea. It’s you I remember every time I see a squirrel or woodpecker. It’s you I see, you I feel, you I hear. Everywhere I go, everything I do, you’re always with me. Sometimes you make me laugh, sometimes you make me cry, always you make me miss you. This world is full of memories of you and the too-short time we shared.

I can’t believe it has been a whole year since you had to leave. And though you were gone far too soon, I was so incredibly blessed to have you in my life. There are no words to describe the wonderful gift you gave us all. The gift of your love. It has made me into the person I am today. I only hope I can prove myself worthy of your gift by passing it on to others. No matter how much time passes, you will forever be a shining example of womanhood. An example I can only aspire to emulate. I know I still disappoint you sometimes, but you know that I’m trying.

I know you are watching and I know you miss us as much as we miss you and I know that we will be together again. It’s tough, you know, waiting for that day. Sometimes I feel guilty for enjoying myself, sometimes I can’t truly have fun because thoughts of you are crowding the back of my mind. You cross my mind every time I do something you would scold me for like eating candy or getting angry. I think of you every time I do something that I know you would have enjoyed. Just know that I miss you and I love you and I’m trying to make you proud. I love you so much, Mama.

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